"Leadership isn't about getting it perfect. Leadership is about when you see a problem fixing it."
That no-nonsense quote came this week from our no-nonsense governor, Chris Christie, when he commented on State Police Col. Rick Fuentes and the reports of state troopers escorting a high-speed caravan of high-performance cars from New York to Atlantic City last month. But we'd like to take the liberty of using it in another, more local context - to describe the leadership vacuum that is the mayor of Atlantic City.
Consider two stories about the resort in Tuesday's newspaper.
The front of the Region section gave quite a bit of space to Mayor Lorenzo Langford and his newfound friends, officials from Zhanjiang City in the People's Republic of China. Atlantic City and the Chinese city entered into a "friendship agreement."
"This is the first step," Langford said. "Now we have to sit down and talk about collaborations." Langford talked and talked and talked in that story.
Then look at the story on the front page of Tuesday's paper. Atlantic City's tax base is melting down. Half the casinos have had their assessments reduced and others have filed to do so. Declining casino property values - the city was reassessed at the height of the real-estate boom - and the economic woes of the region's leading industry are having a direct impact on the city budget.
Because the casinos - by far the resort's largest taxpayers - will pay less in taxes and because the city hasn't severely slashed its budget, the residential and small-business taxpayers will have to carry the burden.
The proposed budget is 5 percent less ($12 million) than last year's budget, but that might not be enough cutting. Under the city's proposed budget, the typical residential property-tax bill will be 9 percent higher.
And what did Langford have to say about this, probably one of the top problems facing the city administration?
Nothing. He did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.
Doesn't the city administration realize how the plunge in the value of taxable property means that financial controls are more important now than ever?
The value of property that can be taxed in Atlantic City has fallen by more than $2 billion in the last few years. Based on the new proposed tax rate, the reduced assessments translate to about $23 million in taxes, or the equivalent of about 10 percent of the latest proposed $232 million city budget.
No one is looking for perfection in Atlantic City's leadership. We'd settle for "almost excellent" or even good.
But the key is, when you see a problem, fix it.
The mayor and other city officials need to confront what arguably is Atlantic City government's greatest fiscal challenge in its recent history.
And part of that response requires the mayor to take a public, hands-on leadership role.